It should not require an act of bravery to tell a room full of people that I’m a survivor of sexual abuse and assault. In fact, one out of four women and one out of six men shares a story like mine. Sexual violence costs our country more than any other crime, and a recent study confirmed that survivors face greater chances of suffering from chronic health conditions like heart disease, diabetes, and obesity, and greater chances of mental illness and substance abuse. And unfortunately, this is not just a problem at colleges and universities – a significant percentage of sexual violence takes place among children and adolescents.
One of the most powerful aspects of the Millennial generation is its ability to mobilize resources, pressure systems and large organizations, and change culture in ways previous generations could not even imagine. If the same percentages of our peers faced cancer of the left toe, you can bet that the major foundations, employers, and social impact organizations would be actively educating themselves about it, taking a public stand against it, and supporting prevention, treatment, and research for a cure.
While a growing wave of public attention has brought this issue to the surface, there is still so much we don’t know. What are the most effective pathways to healing and justice? How do we restore the resilience to families and communities impacted by sexual violence? How do we prevent sexual violence from taking place and rehabilitate offenders?
Last week, over 300 Millennials from Boston gathered for Our Convention, a design-thinking session organized by City Awake as a part of HubWeek. As a part of the Public Safety panel, I had the opportunity to share and discuss ways in which sexual violence could become a more visible part of the Millennial agenda in Boston. A few highlights include:
- Increase public and private support for crisis services. This is an issue that is painfully under-funded. It is under-funded by the government, by the philanthropic community, by the private sector; and frankly, by the Millennial generation. We need to invest in the support network that exists for survivors, and ensure all survivors have access to critical crisis services when they need them. When Millennials care, people pay attention, and as a result, more stakeholders will find creative ways to be part of the solution.
- Invest in research to help us better understand sexual violence While all research points to intolerable rates of sexual violence and assault, there is so much left to understand. Are there communities with higher rates of reporting? Have communities figured out ways to ensure justice and healing for survivors? What do we know about the impact of bystander education? Why do perpetrators commit these crimes? How can we identify them early and intervene effectively?
- Make your work – whatever it is – trauma-informed. Whether you work in education, health care, politics, childcare, or even business, you have an opportunity to stand up for survivors and make sexual violence visible. Too many members of our generation are on the sidelines, grappling with trauma instead of contributing to society. Are you educated about sexual violence? You can be. Are you using code to talk about violence or abuse, particularly sexual violence? Bring it out into the open. Are you inviting survivor advocates and experts to the table when making critical decisions about your work? Seek them out to inform your efforts.
As a young Gen X’er, Our Convention inspired me and made me hopeful for the city of Boston and for the world at-large. This convening was just the beginning. There is more that we can do for our brothers and sisters who suffer in silence. Together, we can imagine a world where survivors of sexual violence are empowered to reach their full potential, a world where sexual violence doesn’t take place at all.
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